Coming Home

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Mary PatAs most of you know, I’ve been in Atlanta since mid-April. First in-patient at Shepherd Center, then outpatient at Pathways, Shepherd Center’s rehab facility. I went home one weekend and was strangely relieved to be back to the studio apartment I share with Mom. All three locations have been like a safe cocoon, and as I prepare to “graduate” and come back to Columbia, I am getting a little anxious to leave my safe places.

I’ve made remarkable progress. I’m walking again – stairs even – and talking again. I’m shopping, cooking and even working a little. I have been through a lot of intensive rehab, and I should feel confident about coming home.

But today, I have noticed a lot of little things that worry me. I still get fatigued fairly easily. I haven’t been able to resume my workouts. Every so often words come out funny. When I get tired or sit too long, I walk like a zombie. I get winded easily. I still have my full-day neuropsych test and three-hour driving evaluation. There’s also the follow-up with the ENT doctor, the one who did my trach and vocal cord surgery. What if one of those indicates additional issues? What then?

What if they missed something? Or what if I get back and find there were more issues from the aneurysm than I thought? It’s nerve wracking. I’m trying to take it one day at a time, but it’s hard not to think ahead.

Here, I’m one of the more advanced patients. At home, I’m afraid I won’t be back on my “A-game.” I’ve gotten used to being here and have gotten comfortable in my rehab routine. In July, I’ll be staying with Mom the first couple of weeks because her house is all on one level. And she’ll taking me to various follow-up doctors appointments. Once I get to my house, I’ll be returning to animals underfoot, rooms without grab bars and getting around on my own. That both thrills me and terrifies me!

I still have a few days here in my cocoon, so I guess I need to enjoy them. And take them one day at a time.

Summer Fun Baskets

By: Leah Prescott

This year we are taking a true summer break, free from formal studies. I am sure this won’t always be the case as we sometimes have subjects to work on over the summer or some catch-up from days lost over the year. Still, while “book learning” is fun, nothing can take the place of carefree summer days filled with playing in the sprinkler and hunting worms. I’m looking forward to my kids wearing themselves out in the sunshine and teaching them some new board games when the South Carolina heat gets unbearable.

Summer fun basket

On the other hand, I want to do all I can to preserve the knowledge my 8-year-olds have gained over this school year and get those little thinking muscles primed for third grade. I’ve been thinking of ways to help encourage learning without major preparation or angst for any of the parties involved. Today I wanted to share one of these ideas with you. Whether you homeschool or not, this is a simple idea that is easily adapted to many ages. Perhaps it isn’t revolutionary, but it’s easy…and sometimes that’s better.

Summer fun basket

I was pretty proud of myself for cleaning out our entire library area by the end of the school year. I had to prepare for our annual book sale, so my arm was twisted into action. I took stock of our materials, filed away completed work for our records, sold some unneeded items, and tossed a lot. All the pencils found their way back to the pencil boxes and I discovered that we actually own one billion crayons, which surprised me since the perfect colors always seem to be eluding my little artists.

Summer fun basket

After the big cleanup, I set aside a large basket for each child and started filling them with “summer fun.” There are only two rules for the contents of the baskets: they must be fun and they must require little or no supervision. Here are some of the things I added to these baskets:

Summer fun basket

  1. Pencil box with basic supplies: glue stick, crayons, pencils, scissors, ruler
  2. Clipboard and legal pads (My children love clipboards. Any writing project is instantly twice as enticing if a clipboard can be utilized.)
  3. Flash master handheld game (electronic flash cards)
  4. Construction paper, stickers, and stencils
  5. “Fun” workbooks (We like the ones in the Target dollar spot.)
  6. Three Ring Binder with cardstock (My girls like to “scrap book” with magazine cuttings.)
  7. Play-Doh or silly putty

Those are the basics that I added to start out. It’s nice to continue to refresh the basket throughout the summer. A new paperback book, card game, or puzzle would be fun to add. Bead kits, rainbow looms or embroidery kits for older children are perfect. I’m looking for a paint-with-water coloring book for my preschooler.

Summer fun basket

This is also a nice place to stick those prizes from Chick-fil-a that would otherwise get lost at the bottom of your purse or the freebie stickers that come in the mail. Really, the options are endless and can be tailored to your child’s interests or needs.

The only “rule” I give the kids about these baskets is that they clean up after themselves. Summer is the time when I really try to crack down on housework and form better habits, and the whole family has to be on board. (If anyone has any tips for teaching my 3-year-old to clean up after himself, they will be humbly received.) Of course, if you have any ideas for easy summer learning, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Confessions of a Famously-Hot Mom

By: Lara Winburn

Though there is a “cool front” coming through Columbia as I write this, we all know that a cool front in June, in Columbia, is a lie. It only means no triple digits on the heat index. And I must admit all of this hot weather and no vacation in sight can make me a little less of the mom, friend or human I hope to be. So, I have some famously hot confessions to make. I hope you will understand and even have a keep-cool suggestion or, at least, an invitation to your pool!

Famously Hot Confessions:

(Seven of them as we approach the seventh month of the year. Or, these could be affectionately referred to as “The Sweaty Seven.”)

  1. Famously HotI talk about the weather constantly, and when I say weather I mean heat. If you are trapped with me outside for more than 10 minutes I can promise you I will say some form of “wow, it’s hot” 9,478 times. I apologize for that but it is hot. I mean, I am even blogging about it.
  2. I do not care about artificial flavors, colors, or artificial ice. Sno-cones are good.
  3. I have run through our sprinkler more than once this summer….after work…in my work clothes.
  4. My favorite friends have a pool. Seriously, haven’t talked to you in 9 months – you have a pool? We should get together more often.
  5. I play hide and seek inside sometimes just to avoid: A) going outside and B) playing Candyland for the 400th time. (Did I mention I am a recovering competitive board game player? So even if my opponent is 4, I might play to win.)
  6. I consider shaving my head daily. I have a lot of crazy curly hair and it traps heat like a fleece blanket on my neck. But since my round face could never rock a pixie cut I keep some length on it so I can put it in a pony tail OFF MY NECK every single day. So if you see me with shears in hand, WATCH OUT!
  7. Sometimes the kids and I sit in my car, in my driveway, for what might be considered a long time – because my car has excellent air conditioning and it is so hot out there in the elements.

So there it is. I am open to suggestions, because did I mention it is hot? I need some new cool ideas!

Reading Makes You Smarter

By: Shannon Shull

Reading makes you smarter. Yep, it does. It’s a proven fact that the more you read, the smarter you become. You open your mind, broaden your vocabulary, use your imagination…in a nutshell, you increase your “smarts” the more you read.

Reading

And here’s the eye opener – most people equate “reading” with actually reading novels, so some people will respond, “I don’t read!” Nowadays every adult reads, whether a newspaper, a magazine, or articles on their phone. Just because you’re not reading an actual book of fiction or nonfiction, does not mean you’re not reading.

I dare you to keep a journal of each and every thing you have to actually read for one day. Most people will give up writing anything down after a while because the truth is, reading is a part of our daily lives. Think about it; whether it’s road signs, advertisements, documents, recipes, manuals, bills, emails, menus ….I could go on and on. Now think about your life if you could not read. If you could not process any of the words constantly placed in front of you, life would be incredibly difficult. One could only imagine how heartbreaking this could be for an individual.

Reading

I recently had the pleasure of taking a graduate course titled, “Reaching Readers,” taught by a brilliant and beautiful woman, Ms. Kayce Cook MacLeod. Her enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject matter was proof that she not only cared, but has a true passion for education and teaching. It was such a pleasure to learn with her! Our required reading for the course was a book called, When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers. This was a required graduate course that I had to take and I admit, at first I was dreading having to go to school after I’d just finished up teaching a full school year!

I was very pleasantly surprised to not only learn an enormous amount of valuable information, but also to be inspired. I admit, I was not looking forward to having to read what I thought would be a boring textbook for yet another required course. Boy was I surprised – and happily so! Dr. Beers is an incredible teacher who poured her heart into writing this book, sharing her experiences and helping to empower all who read her words. This book is a testament to years of realizations, applying strategies, reaching readers, and teaching a priceless tool required for a successful life. Reading is no simple task and each individual learns, reads, and comprehends differently. And that is ok! We all learn in our own unique ways. What might be a challenge for one individual may come easily for another, and vice versa. It’s a fascinating issue and so incredibly important.

Reading

As good teachers, we must create opportunities for success and recognition. One of my acting mentors taught me that ‘Acting is Listening,’ always reminding me that in order to genuinely react and BE a character, you must listen. The same rule applies for teaching. We cannot help others without listening to them. We must listen so that we can truly discover our students’ learning needs. I could go on and on about this subject but the point I want to make with this blog entry of mine is the importance of reading. The more time we spend reading, the more words we learn, the more we broaden our imaginations and minds, and thus, the more we increase our intelligence. In a nutshell, reading is GOOD for us!

I had many favorite quotes from Dr. Beers’ book. I literally marked that book all up as I got inspired and her words touched me in some way. But two of my favorite quotes include,

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for one day; if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime!”

We need to help create generations of readers! And in order to do that we must model good reading behavior and show others how to do it.

That brings me to another of my favorite quotes from Dr. Beers’ book,

“Education is not like a Nike commercial! We must show students HOW to do it.”

Reading

I’m so thankful that my own children love to read. I’m thankful that their father is an advocate for reading and has helped to instill in them a passion and appreciation for reading. I’m thankful that as parents, we both provide opportunities and inspiration that encourage our children to read, use their imaginations and actually develop a love for reading. I’m thankful that my fiancé loves to read and that we all just flat out enjoy the luxury of being advanced readers.

If you’re a teacher, I encourage you to add When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do to your must-read book list. I guarantee it will make you a better teacher on so many levels! And if you’re not in any capacity to teach someone, I’d like for you to take away the utter importance and value of reading. It is a priceless art, a tool, a necessity for success in life. And I challenge you to read more! Let your minds soak in words. Let text speak to you. Let those words broaden your mind and, in some beautiful cases, activate your imagination and inspire you!

Charleston

By: Brady Evans

CharlestonI keep starting and deleting this post over and over again. I sort of don’t want to talk about the Charleston shooting. It totally needs to be talked about, though, and the more we ignore it the more we validate the shooter (in my opinion).

Racial tensions have been brewing. The majority (white) foolishly thought things were good. It is easy to think that way when you are in the majority. It is easy to ignore and make excuses for institutional racism when you aren’t a victim of it. It is easy to say he was just a “crazed gunman” when it wasn’t your own people who died just for being black. The truth of the matter is that there is a big divide in the United States. And if we don’t confront it, we’ll continue to fall victim to it.

I think a great place to start is simply educating yourself on some facts.

5 Disturbing Facts on Black-White Inequality (via CNN Money)

US Education: Still Separate and Unequal (via US News & World Report)

Criminal Justice Fact Sheet (via NAACP)

None of these links is meant to point fingers at anyone. They are just meant to inform.  Once you read the statistics about majority vs. minority in the U.S. it is easy to see that the system is not set up for equal attainment. People of color are not fundamentally less intelligent, less hardworking, and less moral so why do the statistics show that they make less money, have lower levels of education, and are incarcerated more?

It is painful and awkward to talk about these things – I know. But it must happen. It must be addressed. And the first step is knowledge. Yes, pray for Charleston but also pray for our country.

Charleston

By: Chaunte McClure

Last week I made a healthy decision to put my job, assignments and church duties aside to enjoy myself.

A girlfriend’s getaway to Charleston, S.C. last weekend included a group of 20-something to almost-40-year-olds and the birthday girl, who turned the big 4-5.

The beach would have been ideal on a sweltering hot day, but not everyone likes the beach, and since we were celebrating a birthday, it was only right to do what the birthday girl would appreciate.

Since she’s a self-proclaimed foodie, I thought we’d take her somewhere out of the ordinary. Charleston is a food destination with several restaurants and chefs that have been nominated for a James Beard Award. There are endless dining options in downtown Charleston, but I suggested we experience something different, so we headed off the beaten path, down a gravel road.

Bowens Island Restaurant

A couple of times I heard, “Where are we going?” Before we got to our dining spot, the driver was quick to say, “Chaunte chose this.” We saw a huge sign that read, “Bowens Island Restaurant.” We passed two huge houses along the way that everyone admired. Perhaps that eased their concerns a little before seeing cars – lots of cars – parked haphazardly near the restaurant, a large wood structure with a winding ramp leading to its doors with a porch that wraps around the waterfront dive.

Bowen's Island Restaurant

That’s exactly what it is – a dive. I warned the crew that there was no need to get cute for this outing. Shorts and a T-shirt would do. No linen tablecloths or napkins here. Matter of fact, you can leave your mark on the walls. Seriously. Remember how you used to write graffiti on desks when you were in school? Okay, well, your friends did. At Bowens Island Restaurant, you can freely write on the walls and we did, as we waited for our food.

Bowen's Island Restaurant

In case you decide to take a road trip to try this place out, choose a table when you enter and let someone sit there while you place your orders because the place fills up fast. We made it inside in just the knick of time last Friday. By the time I got to the register, the line stretched to the door! They’ll bring your food out to you, but listen carefully for your name while you’re chatting with family and friends. Actually, they’ll yell it loud enough.

Bowen's Island Restaurant

Bowens Island Restaurant serves fresh seafood and I think everyone ordered something different. A couple of us shared our food because our taste buds were curious. I had the seafood platter: a heaping helping of whiting, shrimp, crab cakes and fries. You can’t have fish without hot sauce, so I piled it on. My other friends had everything from Frogmore stew to the big ol’ seafood platter. We were full when we left, but we made sure to take a few selfies. One of the twenty-something millennials brought along her selfie stick and we put it to use the whole weekend.

Charleston Girls Weekend

We obviously stayed up too late Friday night working on vision boards because we missed our 10:00 a.m. spa appointments. However, the early bird in the group rescheduled our appointments for much needed manicures, pedicures and massages. Off to Aqua Day Spa we went and had lunch at Hyman’s, a Charleston classic where many celebrities have been sited. And again, we had seafood. You can’t go to Charleston and not have seafood. This time I didn’t have much room for it because I was still full from breakfast. That didn’t stop me from having fried green tomatoes or crab dip before my entrée arrived.

Before heading back to Columbia, we braved the heat and strolled through the Charleston Market. It was a weekend that can be summed up as: good memories and good conversations while celebrating a good friend.

11647403_10206334244253050_259528326_n

Photo credit: Rev. Effson Bryant

It’s hard to believe that one week later, the very city where we were celebrating would be overcome with grief, yet overwhelmed with the love and support of thousands, maybe even millions. Life is filled with swift transitions and Wednesday’s massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. Church quickly changed the Holy City’s scene.

I was having dinner at a local restaurant after leaving church Wednesday night when I read this Facebook post: “My prayers and thoughts go out to my old friend Senator Clementa Pinckney and his congregation.” I gasped. The name was all too familiar. Then I saw this headline: Reports: Shooting in Downtown Charleston Leave at Least 8 Dead. I immediately said ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ while holding my chest. I hurried home and turned on the TV, hoping the news I read was not true. I waited and waited to find out the victims’ names.

I am an A.M.E. so this hit close to home for me. One of those victims was a fellow A.M.E. preacher. As a matter of fact, a few of them were and I naturally put myself in their shoes because I could have easily been a victim. I am black. I am a member of a historic A.M.E. church, and I was in church Wednesday night as the incident unfolded.

The news of the tragedy hurt like I knew the victims personally, but I didn’t. It was hard to focus Thursday and it was hard to focus Friday. It was hard to believe that such a horrific crime happened to such wonderful (innocent) people, in what should be a well-respected place: the church.

My heart goes out to everyone involved and to the grieving families. Remember, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) David cried out to God in a time of desperate need, saying, “but You, O Lord, are a shield about me, 
My glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain.”

I pray that God will comfort and strengthen the families and friends of the Charleston Nine in the days to come.

La Madeleine: C’est belle!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

As soon as school got out, my daughter, my mom and I hopped on an airplane to go back to Texas. My sister won a cruise from her company, so she and her husband were headed for the Caribbean. We were the babysitters for my 4-year-old niece. Yes, we are the longest-distance traveling babysitters. Ever.

Any of you moms know that 4-year-olds can really give you a run for your money. While we had lots of cool excursions planned (Sea World, Wildlife Ranch, Houston Zoo, Kemah Boardwalk) we tried to keep her normal schedule at Montessori as many days as possible. After dropping her at school one morning, the three of us headed to La Madeleine. Although this is a chain, it’s a country French-style café complete with a wonderful bakery and a selection of patisseries that rival any I’ve seen in France. If you’ve never visited France, it’s worth a trip just to see the window displays of the local patisseries that exist in every single town. They are vibrant works of art!

This place was fantastic. The décor was authentic, with rustic country-style tables, chairs, and wood flooring – truly country French. My daughter went to the bathroom about 6 times because they have French language lessons playing over the stereo in there. Each trip brought her back to the table with a new word or phrase.

It was hard to make a choice because there were so many beautiful selections. Vivian chose a lemon muffin with decadent lemon custard filling and the housemade lemonade (the kid likes lemon!). My mom ordered the Cinnamon French Toast and I went with Quiche Lorraine.

Let’s start with the muffin. The fact that the child chose lemon over all the ooey-gooey chocolate items and shiny, glossy fruit tarts was pleasantly surprising. But she surprises me a lot. The muffin was delicious on its own, but then to discover that custard hiding in the center was a great treat.

lemon muffin

Mom’s French toast was amazing, to say the least. It was crisp brioche with a rainbow of fruit on top, and it sported a dollop of “real deal” whipped cream. It was way more than one person could eat, so Viv and I were able to have a few yummy bites.

French toastThe quiche was very nice as well. It was roughly a 6” pie, perfect for one. The crust was so super flaky, which always makes me jealous since piecrust is my culinary nemesis! The filling was rich (real cream I suppose, which is how I like to make mine) and tasted very authentically French.

quiche lorraine

After finishing our relaxing petit déjeuner, Viv selected two adorable mini lemon tarts to take home to share with her little cousin later. Now that I know that La Madeleine is a chain, I’m trying to think of everyone I know in the restaurant biz so I can convince them to open one here. We have nothing like it and I can’t imagine anyone not liking this menu. Until my next visit to Houston, bon appétit La Madeleine!